A fire in the upstairs bedroom of the old farm house sent Mom down the road to Auntie’s house to call the volunteer fire department. They flipped phone book pages frantically searching for the number. Mom’s finger yanked the rotary dial, letting it spring back after each number. In her haste, she called a wrong number. She waited as all the switches on the party line fell back into place so she could try again. That long wait became part of the story of the day the house burned down.
In the next 10 years, phones and services improved, except for the cost of long distance calls. When Mom and Dad moved the family across the country, Mom could not sit at her mother’s kitchen table and visit. She only called after notifying Grandma in a letter when she would be calling. My grandmother, born before the wide spread use of phones, rarely used her phone. And, considering the cost per minute, Mom wrote a lot of letters.
As family finances improved and her grown children moved to other states Mom called regularly. She knew exactly how much each minute cost and what times cost the least. During the high day time rates, Mom only called to announce new grand babies and emergencies.
There were no emergencies.
There were lots of grand babies and phone calls. Mom wanted the contact. When I moved, the phone company took a couple days to install my new phone. Anxious to hear my voice Mom had called information for my new number and reached me before I had time to call her. Our number has been the same for years, but you better believe that when our area code changed in the 1990s, I quickly updated Mom.
In the 1970s we all knew the best rates went from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. For many years, Mom lived a time zone west of us. Eager to hear the latest news, she woke early enough to call after breakfast my time yet still be on night rates her time. She liked a loophole in the billing: night rates applied the hour we talked after her day rates began.
Thanks to her, I developed a mental meter that began ticking during any long distance phone call. The day my husband called collect from Mexico to talk about his short visit, I anxiously kept saying, “This is an international collect call.” Those seven minutes cost $63. I was as shocked as Mom was the day she learned AT&T had closed the rate loophole.
She called totally shocked, “I just got my phone bill for last month. AT&T has changed the billing. Any call continuing after day time rates go into effect is no longer charged at the night time rate.”
We all grumbled about that. We looked forward to those early morning phone calls. Before AT&T broke up and the advent of today’s cell phones, we knew the truth of the adage, “Talk is cheap until the phone bill arrives.” We quickly found another calling schedule.
I can no longer visit with my Mom on the phone. She never saw the proliferation of low cost cell phones, caller ID or unlimited talking. If she had, I am sure she would have had signed up for all of them and had every family member and the fire department on speed dial.
Thankfully, these days with multiple choices in long distance contracts, I can enjoy a phone call from any child or grandchild at any hour; and if the house catches afire I only have to punch in 911.